Japanese symbols: origin and meaning for jewelry with astonishing powers
History of Japanese patterns
The Japanese patterns screen-printed on the washi paper that I use for my creations, in addition to their beauty and finesse, are also highly symbolic in Japanese culture. Called Wagara , each pattern can come from nature, daily life, geometry... there are hundreds of them.
When you study them for the first time, some seem familiar to you, and for good reason, they are widely used in decoration, ready-to-wear, and our daily lives in general. They also seem very modern to us, and yet...they are in reality several centuries old!
These motifs appeared during the Heian period (794-1192) which was an unusually long period of peace at that time. It was the golden age of Japanese culture (poetry, literature) which gradually began to free itself from Chinese influences. We are witnessing the rise in power of the samurai who will gradually take power and mark Japan's entry into the feudal period.
These patterns were initially created to decorate traditional clothing on the occasion of a particular event, to mark a social class (certain patterns were exclusively reserved for certain families) and were then used on tableware, decorative objects and furniture. fashion of all kinds.
If you are interested, here is another article
dedicated to the symbolism of flowers ⚘ ⚘ ⚘
in traditional Japanese culture.
Symbolism of Japanese motifs
Here is an overview of the symbolism of the most well-known motifs. For more details, head over to Instagram ;)
Seigaiha - Karakusa - Asahona - Uroko - Shippou - Kanoko Shibori - Kumo - Yagasuri Yabane
The Seigaiha pattern represents waves formed by concentric circles creating small arcs. Water and waves in general are very important symbols in Japan. Water is an element symbolizing luck, power but also resilience. This pattern first appeared in China before being imported to Japan. It was used there on territorial maps to identify the seas.
Find the Golden Shadow cuff with the Seigaiha pattern.
The Karakusa pattern is inspired by growing stems and vines that intertwine as they grow into infinity. It is a symbol of eternity and also of prosperity within a Japanese family. It is associated with a family tree in Western culture. We often find this arabesque pattern on Japanese furoshiki, the squares of fabric used to wrap and transport objects.
The Asanoha pattern was traditionally used on clothing for newborns. Asanoha, symbolized by a 6-pointed star, literally means "hemp leaf". What report will you tell me?
The Japanese used little cotton and favored hemp. Hemp is a hardy plant that grows quickly and requires little attention. The "Asanoha" motif is an omen of vigor, resistance, good growth and it traditionally appeared on clothing offered at the time of a birth.
Find the Electre earrings with the Asanoha pattern.
The Shippou motif refers to the seven treasures of Buddhism: gold, silver, lapis lazuli, agate, shell, amber and coral. All these materials were found on the Asian continent and were precious and rare. This Buddhist pattern also means "cloisonné", which refers to a decoration technique using metal strips and precious stones. It is a symbol of harmony and good relationships. I think we should use it more often ;).
Find the Mérope earrings with the Shippou pattern.
This pattern is based on the feathers of hawks, eagles and other birds used to make arrows. The Yagasuri Yabane pattern represents arrow throwing which was an important skill in Edo era Japan. This practice continues to be practiced today even in modern and official ceremonies. Yagasuri is often seen at graduations and weddings. This pattern represents firmness and determination, because an arrow shot straight ahead never returns.
Ginkgo is one of the oldest tree species on earth, having existed for 150 million years. Gingko , literally meaning "silver apricot", is a sacred symbol of longevity in Japan, China and Korea. This species survived the extinction of the dinosaurs but also more recently the radiation from Hiroshima... that’s saying something! We know of very few diseases and parasites, this tree is resistant to all tests (pollution, frost, lightning, etc.) Studies show that unlike almost all plant and animal species, their cells do not age. and their immune system strengthens over the years, favoring defense cells over growth cells.
Enough to inspire anti-aging medicine...and in particular Chinese medicine which has used it for 4000 years. Antioxidant, stimulation of circulation, treatment of asthma, chronic bronchitis, and even more recently, to combat Alzheimer's disease, senile degeneration as well as vision problems due to free radicals (glaucoma, cataracts. ..)...its benefits are limitless.
Kumo means cloud in Japanese (as well as spider). The meaning of this Japanese motif is hope, change and connection with the Japanese gods.
Tatewaku is a Japanese pattern composed of several wavy, vertical lines that represent steam slowly rising toward the sky. During the Heian era, making fabric with this pattern required advanced weaving techniques. It was therefore exclusively used for clothing intended for Japanese nobles or at least people of high rank. The Tatewaku motif symbolizes the strength to overcome events and a form of spiritual elevation.
This pattern comes from the world of dyeing. It comes from the term ' shiboru ', translated from Japanese as 'twist, squeeze'. Japan has a strong tradition of dyeing (particularly indigo) since the Middle Ages, and has developed or perfected several techniques. Shibori involves tying up certain parts of a fabric before letting it soak in the bath. Depending on the level of tightening, these parts will be more or less colored, or even remain white, thus creating patterns, like the widely used kanoko. Shibori dyeing takes a lot of time and skill to make. The shibori pattern is also called Kanoko Shibori. These are Japanese polka dot patterns. It is a symbol of robustness and long life.
Find the Céléno cuff with the Shibori pattern.
The cherry blossom ( Sakura ) is one of the most iconic symbols of Japan. The Japanese Sakura cherry pattern marks the beginning of spring. This symbol is so widespread and popular in Japanese society that it has its own holiday: hanami. It is a matsuri festival which consists of contemplating the beauty of flowers. It is an opportunity for the Japanese to get together with family and friends for a picnic under the flowering trees. On Japanese clothing, the sakura pattern symbolizes kindness, gentleness and the ephemeral beauty of things.
In Japan, each season is characterized by its own series of natural transformations. This attention to the slightest variations in nature is expressed through a traditional calendar which has no less than 72 micro-seasons! Each of the four traditional seasons is therefore divided into six large sections or sekki, which are themselves divided into three smaller sections, kô.
Some examples among the 72:
From February 4 to February 8: Harukaze kōri wo toku (東風解凍) The east wind melts the ice
From April 5 – April 9: Tsubame kitaru (玄鳥至) Return of the Swallows
From August 23 – August 27: Wata no hana shibe hiraku (綿柎開) Cotton flowers bloom
From October 18 – October 22: Kirigirisu to ni ari (蟋蟀在戸) The locusts sing at the doorstep
And yes, it's precise ;)
“ Uroko ” (鱗) means scale in Japanese. This pattern is made up of triangles alternating light and dark shades. It's not the most artistic ;) It is very old and can represent fish, snake or dragon scales. In Japanese culture, scales have protective properties (especially those of dragons). It is thus a pattern that brings luck but above all protects. It is very often found in embroidery, and also on the costumes of "bad" characters in Nō theater (ogresses, dragons).
The chrysanthemum, Kiku , is known in Japan as the flower of emperors. The imperial family made it its emblem and it is found on the imperial seal, Japanese passports, certain coins... It is a very resistant flower and a symbol of longevity and immortality.
It is certainly not as popular as the cherry blossom but it has just the same right to its little celebration. Every year, the Bunkyô Kiku Matsuri offers a splendid spectacle with thousands of chrysanthemums and autumn flowers: it's the celebration of happiness!
It's still more cheerful than in the West (especially in France) where the chrysanthemum is rather considered the flower of All Saints' Day and cemeteries...
Etymologically, chrysanthemum means “golden flower” (from the Greek chrysós “gold” and ánthos “flower, root”).
The cross of the Sayagata motif is a derivative of the svatiska cross which is in reality a very old universal motif (pre-history), which is found on all continents. In Japan, it is called Manji, and is linked to Buddhism where it evokes the harmony of opposites, compassion, strength, intelligence, everything and infinity.
The word Sayagata (紗綾形) refers to silk gauze with a woven pattern, which was imported from China. Gradually, it became popular, and we often also find it on household linen, associated with flowers.
This is also an auspicious reason.
Traditionally in Japan, Botan the peony was the symbol of the nobility and the upper classes in general. Imported from China around the 6th century where it was considered the queen of flowers, it gradually became more popular and is today in all parks and public gardens.
The peony is a recurring element in Japanese prints and was of course found in Art Nouveau motifs, such as the illustrations of A. Mucha.
Find the entire Casa Pampa collection which puts the peony in the spotlight!
The Kagome pattern actually illustrates a method of weaving Japanese bamboo baskets. This motif is synonymous with protection, a sort of barrier against demons.
Same Komon , this concentric polka dot pattern (my drawing is a bit wrong) evokes shark skin. It traditionally appeared on the kimonos of young brides to ward off the devil and diseases. It is often used as a background for more complex designs.
On washi paper, it comes in a multitude of colors, I use it very often, for example during my last publication (on a purple and fuchsia background).
This pattern reminds me of the Japanese avant-garde artist Yayoi Kusama for whom polka dots are a real obsession. The polka dot, her trademark, came to her during her first hallucinations as a child, and since then she has reproduced it by the thousands on different media. His art is in a way his catharsis to calm his anxieties. More joyfully, you can admire the tulips of this colorful pacifist artist in the center of Lille!
I really like this pattern, it is very simple and very elegant.
The Japanese crane (Tsuru) is one of the largest birds in the world. It is very elegant, very long and is unfortunately one of the endangered species. She is known for her long life expectancy (this was without taking into account the human presence), her grace and her rarity.
The crane is very present in Japanese tales and myths but also in art in general (kimono, prints, etc.)
In Japan, it is common to offer a wreath of paper cranes to suffering people as a token of good recovery. This garland must be made by praying and all the cranes must be linked together.
It is also a global symbol of peace with the legend of the thousand cranes.
Source: Dictionary of Japanese Architectural and Art Historical Terminology